Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
YUKON DELTA: Officers Uncover Musk Ox Poaching
Alaska Region, April 20, 2005
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Refuge Officers/Pilots Issac Bedingfield and Robert Sundown discovered remains of five musk oxen while on an aerial patrol 75 miles west of Bethel in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The musk oxen were illegally shot from a promising new herd of 29 animals populating a series of small extinct volcanoes, known locally as the Mud Volcanoes. The officers followed the snowmobile trail from the kill site to two small villages on the Bering Sea coast.

The officers landed at these two villages and from a series of interviews discovered the identity of the eight poachers. The investigation also uncovered the remains of an illegally taken moose. Cooperative efforts with the Alaska State Troopers are under way to prosecute the poachers. The suspects face $3000 restitution for each musk oxen taken, a $3000 fine each for illegal take, seizure of the meat and weapons, and possible forfeiture of their snowmobiles. Earlier this winter, two musk oxen were poached from the same herd. Biologists believe that the herd of 29 would have supported a limited legal hunt within five years prior to this decimation. The case made headlines in Anchorage papers as well as local news media. Village elders throughout the Delta expressed anger at poaching of this promising population.

Musk oxen once lived across Alaska but with the advent of gunpowder were gone by the late 1800s. In a rescue effort approved by Congress, three dozen Greenland musk oxen were transplanted to Fairbanks in 1931. By 1936, they were moved to the Refuge's Nunivak Island. The Nunivak herd has been used as seed stock for new herds throughout Alaska and Russia. One of the first herds formed in 1968, when two dozen Nunivak musk oxen were transplanted onto nearby Nelson Island. Now the two islands hold 900 animals, from which hunters take 120 or more bulls and cows every year. With few predators other than hunters, the Nelson Island herd has expanded across the Delta, including the small group that was poached.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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